Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders and Mayor John Tory have called for reviews after Ontario Premier Doug Ford questioned how a “nutcase,” who is “crazy, crazy,” was able to flee the country after disappearing from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).
Zhebin Cong, 47, disappeared from the facility, located in downtown Toronto’s west end near Queen Street West and Ossington Avenue, on July 3 and boarded an international flight that same day.
Cong was charged in connection with a fatal stabbing that took place in 2014, but was later found not criminally responsible. In May of the same year the Ontario Review Board decided Cong would be detained at CAMH with “privileges extending to living in the community in approved 24-hour supervised accommodation.”
In the board’s decision, it was noted that Cong continued to “pose a significant threat to the safety of the public.”
The documents also stated that Cong expressed a desire to return to China. But, the Toronto Police Service said in a statement issued on Wednesday evening that Cong was a “low-risk to public safety.”
After hearing that Cong had disappeared from CAMH and fled the country, Ford said he was “disgusted” while speaking on Newstalk 1010 on Thursday morning.
“They say this guy is low-risk and he chopped up his roommate with a meat cleaver like what are people thinking? Between the Toronto Police Service, the Ontario Review Board and CAMH, someone is going to be answering because if they are calling this low-risk then what is high-risk?”
“There are certain things that are a no-brainer. I could ask a 10-year-old kid should you let this guy loose on the street after he chopped up his roommate and a 10-year-old kid would say ‘absolutely not.’”
Zhebin Cong is seen in this undated image. (Toronto Police Service)
Ford went on to say he “would not want to have lunch beside this guy.”
Ford said he will “get to the bottom of this” and “hold people accountable” but when asked if he has spoken with police, the Ontario Review Board or officials at CAMH in the past 48 hours he replied saying no.
“I can assure you I will be speaking with them today, each and every one of them to find out who dropped the ball, who let this guy out, why wasn’t it communicated with the public,” he said. “We are going to get down to the bottom of it and there are going to be people held accountable.”
“I need an answer off Toronto Police Service, I need an answer off CAMH and we need an answer off the Ontario Review Board and we are going to get answers, I can assure you.”
The exterior of the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction near Queen Street West and Ossington Avenue in Toronto is seen. (CTV News Toronto)
Meanwhile, following the remarks the premier made, Saunders spoke on the matter publicly on Thursday afternoon. He said he has called for an escalated police investigation into Cong’s disappearance while an internal review regarding the handling of the case is conducted.
Saunders said the police service was first made aware of Cong’s disappearance when a report was filed by CAMH on July 3 and added that officers have been conducting check-ins with the facility since then.
“As the investigation continued, a decision to appeal to the public for assistance in locating Zhebin Cong was determine,” he said. “The Toronto Police Service tweeted the particulars at 8:01 p.m. on July 14, which was followed by a news release the next morning.”
Saunders said the investigation continued from there.
“We learned on July 16 that Cong arrived at an airport, cleared all security checks and boarded an international flight.”
As a result, two investigations into the matter are now underway, Saunders announced Thursday.
“The police investigation has been escalated to a full review beginning with his departure from CAMH to his status today as being unlawfully at large,” he said. “We will review if he received assistance, money, or a passport from anyone who may have facilitated him leaving the country.”
“We are working with Canadian and international law enforcement agencies.”
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders speaks at a news conference on July 18, 2019. (CTV News Toronto)
As well, Saunders said an internal review will be conducted in an effort to “identify any gaps in this incident.”
“This will include but not be limited to looking at process, training and communication with our community agencies.”
Shortly after Saunders made his comments on the matter, Tory issued a statement stating that he has formally requested an independent review of the case be conducted by the Ontario government.
The statement said the request came after “positive discussions” between himself, his office, Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, and Ford’s office.
“I believe such a review could work with CAMH and the Ontario Review Board to address issues related to Cong’s disappearance from the facility and the city, but there are other questions which go well beyond that and which require answers if the public is to be confident that this kind of thing won’t happen again,” Tory said.
Tory said the review should question when police were notified, what they were told at the time, what actions were taken once they were told, and how did Cong have a passport in his possession on the day in question.
“While I understand that there are privacy concerns and sensitivity required due to the mental illness issues involved, there are also fundamental questions of community safety that absolutely must be addressed,” he said. “Addressing these questions and providing the public with answers is the only way to ensure we maintain public confidence in a system which generally works quite well but which clearly fell short in this instance.”
“I am confident that the government of Ontario has a firm commitment to community safety and will recognize the benefits of such an independent review.
Speaking on Thursday alongside Saunders, Jones said she wants to work with Tory to ensure every level of government is meeting their responsibilities on the matter.
“I think it is pretty clear that there are a number of questions that still remain unanswered,” she said. “Frankly I think in this situation there are probably at least three (levels of government involved) so we are going to get those questions answered.”
“We are working together to make sure we are getting the answers we need.”
Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones is seen speaking a news conference held on July 18, 2019. (CTV News Toronto)
Newstalk 1010 asked the premier how he would respond to people saying the disappearance of Cong relates to budget cuts implemented by his government.
He said, “we’ve actually supported CAMH with a tremendous amount of money so don’t give me that nonsense.”
“It doesn’t take someone with half a brain to figure out the guy is a meat cleaver murderer and you’re going to let him out, that is absolutely ridiculous.”
Ford added he believed CAMH does incredible work, but “someone dropped the ball on this.”
“They are a great organization in my opinion, they do great work and we are going to find out who dropped the ball.”
When asked to provide specifics on funding to CAMH from the provincial government, Ford said he could not at this time.
CAMH said in a statement that it is taking this ordeal “very seriously.”
“CAMH notified the Toronto Police Service as per protocol on July 3 at 6:50 p.m., the day that the patient did not return,” the statement said. “The individual was on an unaccompanied pass to the community, as permitted by the terms of his Ontario Review Board disposition.”
CAMH said an internal review has been launched into the matter and “additional precautions” have been immediately implemented at the facility.
The new actions include:
- A physician-in-chief will oversee an additional process by which all existing passes and privileges will be reassessed, with a focus on those patients who have unsupervised access to the community.
- CAMH is working to increase clinical staffing levels in their forensic units, as well as work to immediately add security staff presence at all forensic units
“Each forensic patient at CAMH has a unique rehabilitation and recovery plan in place, which is overseen by the ORB,” the facility said. “The ORB sets the parameters of supervision and management for people found not criminally responsible.”
“The ORB has a system of privileges – which can include accompanied or unaccompanied community passes – that is essential to prepare forensic patients to be able to safely reintegrate with the community.”
Police have described Cong as five-foot-nine man, weighing about 200 pounds with a heavy build and short black hair. He has trouble speaking English, officers added.
Zhebin Cong, 47
-Last seen Jul 3, 4 pm, Queen St + Ossington Av
-5’9, 200, heavy build, short black hair
-No clothing descriptions
-He has trouble speaking english#GO1237691
— Toronto Police OPS (@TPSOperations) July 15, 2019
Anyone with further information is asked to contact police at 416-808-1400 or Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-TIPS (8477).